How Much Sugar Is Too Much?

Too much sugar spells excess calories and cavities and may lead to diabetes and heart disease.

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The American Heart Association has just advised that we limit our added-sugar intake. I don't have a sweet tooth, but what should I be cognizant of as I browse store shelves? How much added sugar is too much, and what's at stake if I don't cut down?

This will be a bit challenging for consumers to put into practice. The first and most important point is that a huge source for millions of Americans is sugary beverages—soda but also fruit drinks or punches. Not consuming these, or if so only rarely, is very important for maintaining health.

Then, we should consider that 5 percent of calories from added sugar [the AHA recommendation] means about 25 grams or five teaspoons for a typical person. If you look at the food labels, you can see how the content fits into this total target. This is not perfect, because the label includes natural sugars like those in an orange, which are not counted toward the 5 percent. Metabolically, though, natural sugar behaves the same, so we will be on the safe side by including natural sugar.

You are right that the amount of sugar in many prepared foods is large. Higher intake directly contributes to excessive calories and dental cavities, overweight, diabetes, and heart disease. If someone is highly active and lean, he or she can tolerate a bit higher intake of sugar, but this applies to few Americans. 

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